Witch Thief is the latest attempt to take such classics as Smash TV and Robotron and update them with a 3D coat of paint, all the while colliding them with twitchy Japanese shoot ‘em ups. Question is, is it a Sabrina-style reimagining, taking something old and twisting into something new and fun, or is it more like Grotbags, with all the production value of a high school pantomime?
Being a witch and all, the protagonist floats around a map, moving between gated rooms. Enemies soon appear, with different colours of enemies having different attack patterns. Some throw bullets, some spawn fire, and some go wild with laser beams. Kill all the enemies in a room and you’re onto the next one. There are boss fights to break things up too, with the bosses sending out often fearsome patterns of bullets and lasers.
There are a few different weapons in your arsenal to even the odds. The main weapon, somewhat predictably, has unlimited ammo. You also have a dodge move, a focus mode (which slows down time) and some spells. Spells are consumables, so it’s a good idea to use them sparingly for when you need to get out of trouble. They’re also delightfully overpowered. Basically, if Witch Thief were up against Voldemort, she wouldn’t need to find seven books to destroy him.
It’s nice to see a game try something new, and it’s especially nice to see an indie game on Switch with fancy 3D visuals. The presentation is nice and chunky, too, which even holds up well in docked mode. The only compromise comes in variety. Most enemies are colour swapped versions of the same model. The framerate is also a little uneven, collapsing when using magic with a lot of enemies on screen.
None of this really matters, though. The key with all shooters is the feel of the shooting. A good shooter lets you know the impact of your shots, making you feel the tension. Unfortunately, Witch Thief’s shooting is as soft and flimsy as they come.
It’s all in the audio, really. Your shots don’t make a sound as they fire, and when they find their target, all you get is a dull, quiet, thud and a visual blink. As shots hit walls, they just kind of disappear. Games are all about feedback between player and game, and Witch Thief just doesn’t give weighty, pleasurable feedback.
As mentioned, spells are immensely powerful, but I don’t get a controller vibration or an epic enough audio cue to sell me on how awesome they are. It’s disappointing when a game with nice visuals ignores sound design. This weakness of sound design also translates to the soundtrack, which is just… there. It goes for grand, but the loop of sound is brief, and it just sits on top of the action, inert at best and playing against your action and what is happening on screen at worst.
We also need to talk about the 3D camera. It’s not great. Shoot ‘em ups are traditionally 2D because of the need to show the player the entire play area. Being in 3D, Witch Thief’s camera often works against you. It’s far too low to get a good view of the action and sometimes veers too close to your body, meaning that dodging becomes way more difficult than it should be, and you find yourself walking into off-screen bullets.
This has not been an easy review to write. Witch Thief looks the part and it feels like the work of passionate people – they’ve even used a special font during dialogue that’s intended to aid people with dyslexia. We wanted to tell you about a hidden gem; an overlooked ode to bullet hells and smashed TVs. But all this good work is undermined by the flat shooting mechanics and wayward camera.
It’s not the Worst Witch. It’s not a Wicked Witch. It’s more a soggy sandwich – not entirely unpalatable, but not too appealing either.